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King Twp. holding onto hope for hospital on Greenbelt border

Township council discusses possibility that province's yet-to-be-passed Bill 185 could re-open door to new Southlake site on its Greenbelt land
The Southlake Arch on Davis Drive.

Township of King council isn't giving up on the idea of a new Southlake Regional Health Centre hospital being built on its Greenbelt land.

The province's yet-to-be-passed Bill 185 housing legislation opens up possible planning exemptions for hospitals on Greenbelt lands, staff told council at a May 13 meeting Pellegrini said a hospital could built which council has previously supported. 

King Mayor Steve Pellegrini said he wants to continue supporting the idea of a hospital at Highway 9 and Bathurst Street, which borders Newmarket.

“I believe a hospital there — not a whole development, a hospital — would be an incredible asset to this community. It serves this community,” Pellegrini said.

King pushed for the idea of a hospital on local Greenbelt lands in November 2022, when the province attempted to open up sections of the Greenbelt for residential development. The idea was for the hospital to be part of a residential development proposed by Rice Group, with Southlake getting the lands for a hospital site for next to nothing.

But that plan appeared to be over when the province reversed course on opening the Greenbelt in 2023 and subsequently confirmed it was nixing the hospital idea in September 2023.

That has left Southlake without options as it pursues a new, second hospital site to meet the demands of the burgeoning population. President and CEO Paul Woods said in March that the reversal forced them to press the “reset button” in their plans and left them with no candidate for a hospital site. As opposed to getting the land essentially for free, Southlake also may now need to find a site that will cost millions of dollars to purchase. 

At the May 13 King meeting, staff presented its analysis of Bill 185, proposed legislation aimed at speeding up housing development. King council approved staff recommendations about submitting municipal feedback on the bill.

Notably, the bill in its current form introduces a new ministerial zoning order framework that could allow for use in parts of the Greenbelt plan area if it delivers on a provincial priority such as long-term care homes, housing priorities and hospitals.

“This change may benefit the township,” the staff report said. “King would be able to utilize MZOs under the new framework throughout the township, including within the Greenbelt area, provided the criteria of the framework are met.”

The report also said that certain community facilities like hospitals could be exempt from Planning Act provisions under the legislation, which suggests they could be built in the natural heritage or protected countryside portions of the Greenbelt area, but that more clarity is needed there.

NewmarketToday did not receive a reply to a request for comment from Southlake Regional Health Centre before publication deadline. 

Some members of the public did delegate to council about the matter. Kingcross Ratepayers Association chair Mary Muter said the implications of allowing institutional development outside settlement areas are “dire” and could damage environmentally sensitive lands.

“King Township should send a strong message to the province that Bill 185 should not get royal assent,” Muter said. 

Pellegrini said though there are a couple of positive elements, such as a “use it or lose it” policy for idle developers and returning some development charges, the remaining changes are not so positive. 

But he said it is a provincial planning document and that the King council has limited ability to influence such policy.

Still, councillors expressed concern with Bill 185 and discussed making a statement of opposition. Councillor Debbie Schaefer suggested that the township should voice that the bill should be withdrawn.

But Pellegrini said that given the bill could potentially open the door for a Southlake site in King, such a motion would run contrary to the council’s previously voted-on position in support of that.

Councillor David Boyd also expressed hope for a hospital to come close.

“If we can get a hospital closer to our residents, and we can get that faster, I think that’s a good thing for King,” he said. “If we want to enable that, why would we put up our hands and say ‘uh-uh,’ and make it harder.”

But Councillor Jennifer Anstey responded that Southlake is looking at other locales.

“I also have concerns with having a hospital in the town and how we’re going to fund that,” Anstey said. 

Regardless, Pellegrini said it could be problematic to outright reject the bill.

“Unfortunately, with this (provincial) government, if we say no to this, it means no hospital,” he said. “And that’s unfortunate.”

Council ultimately decided against a proposed amendment to state outright opposition to the concept of exempting some development from the Planning Act, i.e. hospitals in the Greenbelt plan area, and stick with the staff-recommended feedback on the bill.